Can you live so completely that there is only the active present now?

From the chapter “A fundamental question” in Jiddu Krishnamurti’s The Awakening of Intelligence. This chapter was from a lecture delivered in Madras on Jan 12, 1968. The closing excerpt (reproduced here) made an impression on me.

Questioner: Sir, if we are not in the past, but in the present, does that also become the past and the future – how are we to know that we are right?

JK: You don’t have to be sure you are right — be wrong! Why are you frightened about being right or wrong? But your question has no validity at all because you are just talking, you are just theorising. You are saying, “If this happens, that would happen.” But if you put it into action then you would know there is no such thing as “going wrong.”

Questioner: Sir, when we go back home we see our children and the past comes in.

Questioner: Shankara may go.

JK: I hope it has gone. Shankara may go but the children remain. (Laughter) Are the children the past? They are in one sense. And as they are living human beings, can you educate them to live completely, in the way we are talking about?

Questioner: Right Sir, you have answered it, sorry.

JK: That means I have to help them to be intelligent, I have to help them to be sensitive, because sensitivity, highest sensitivity is the highest intelligence. Therefore if there are no schools around you, you have to help them at home to be sensitive, to look at the trees, to look at the flowers, to listen to the birds, to plant a tree if you have a little yard — or if you have no yard to have a tree in a pot and to look at it, to cherish it, to water it, not to tear its leaves. And as the schools do not want them to be sensitive, educated, intelligent (schools only exist to pass exams and get a job) you have to help them at home, to help them to discuss with you, why you go to a temple, why you do this ceremony, why you read the Bible, the Gita — you follow? — so that they are questioning you all the time, so that neither you nor anyone else becomes an authority. But I am afraid you won’t do any of this because the climate, the food, the tradition is too much for you, so you slip back and lead a monstrously ugly life. But I think, if you have the energy, the drive, the passion, that is the only way to live.

 

The Logical Song

I’ve been enjoying Supertramp’s Logical Song since the mid-90’s but it’s only recently, with the perspective of a parent thinking about education paradigms for kids, that the song’s message hits home. If your musical journey has somehow missed Supertramp’s Breakfast in America album, I strongly recommend it – never too late I say. I’ve reproduced the lyrics for my lazy friends (courtesyLyricsFreak.com):

When I was young, it seemed like life was so wonderful, it was beautiful, magical

And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily, joyfully, playfully, watching me

And then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical

And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical

There are times when all the world’s asleep

The questions run too deep for such a simple man

Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned

I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am

I said now, watch what you say, now we’re calling you a radical, a liberal, fanatical, criminal

Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable

But at night, when all the world’s asleep

The questions run so deep for such a simple man

Won’t you please (Won’t you tell me), (You can tell me what) please tell me what we’ve learned (Can you hear me?)

I know it sounds absurd, (Won’t you help me) please tell me who I am, who am I, who am I, who am I

But I’m thinking so logical

Did you call, one two three four

It’s getting unbelievable

The Wikipedia article on The Logical Song had the following commentary: The lyrics are a “story of innocence and idealism lost with Hodgson (band member and song writer) condemning an education system not focused on knowledge and sensitivity. The song tells the story of a man who:

  • is taken away from the unspoilt immediacy of childhood (When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical),
  • undergoes education (but then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical),
  • sees a future prepared for him lacking any spontaneity of reaction (And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical),
  • feels constricted in his freedom of speech (Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical, a liberal, fanatical, criminal),
  • is put under pressure to conform (Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable)
  • and ends up confused, without a coherent self-image (please tell me who I am).

The journey from one home to another (guest post)

[Editor’s Note: The 2nd post in the R2IProfiles category comes from my blogger friend and fellow Bangalore denizen “Divs”. She blogs with gusto at Baby Love…and looottts of it]

I went to the US in Dec.1999 and celebrated the millennium New Year ’s Eve with my cousin sis and her family whom I had not met in atleast 10 years. She was the only “family” I knew in the US when I decided to go there for further studies. That was in Charlotte, NC and since then, life brought me to live in other parts of the country such as Detroit, MI and then the Bay Area, CA. So overall, I had spent close to 9 years in the US – first as a student, then as a full time employee along with being a student, then as a full time employee, then as my hubby’s girlfriend, fiancé and wife, then as a mother to my daughter – before moving back to India in Sept. 2008.  So my brother kind of jokes that I went there alone and came back with 2 more additions to my family 🙂

That’s how I perceive US as – not a place where I went to earn a degree or some money. But a place where I grew roots and developed a family and an extended family of my own. When you are so far away from immediate family, all your near and dear ones become your extended family. It is a wonderful way to live, learn and grow. In any case, I digress. So back to the objective of R2I and our story…

We moved back to India for many reasons although one of the most important ones would be to come back and live closer to our families. Living in the same city was not as important in our minds but being in the same country was the key. So city was a choice we had to make based primarily on the job factor as well as lifestyle, climate, etc. Our ideal choice was Pune since that would keep us close to both sets of families and the climate would not be that bad either. But the truth was that if we both wanted decent careers, Pune did not have much to offer. So our next choices were Delhi (Gurgaon) or Bangalore. Delhi had the extreme climate issues on its side whereas Bangalore was completely new to both of us. We went with Bangalore in the end since it promised a career not just for my hubby but for me as well and also that hubby did have one uncle who could be our initial family support in the city if needed. I did have an uncle and some other cousins living in Delhi as well but we weren’t too sure of the career aspects in that city then and were not too fond of extreme climate in general. So figured we’d give Bangalore a shot first and see how we like it. And I am so glad we made the decision the way we did since so far, we have not been disappointed (knock on wood)! The lovely weather in this city came as an additional bonus. Like Vishy has already mentioned in one of his posts, people from the Bay Area would love the weather in Bangalore since it is sooo much similar. One thing that could really be improved here is the roads and traffic management though!

One tip I would give to folks considering the move – do not move into independent single family homes as your first place of residence after coming here. We opted to live in an apartment complex especially since it has a lot of amenities to offer for the kids – things that we are used to in the US such as swimming pool, club house, gym, tennis court, play area, etc. Along with that you get the gated security aspect as well as the community as a way to build your social network. In a single family home, you will not have any of the above and feel rather lonely especially if you do not know anyone else in the city. Hence we decided to move into an apartment complex and I tell you – the entire move seemed to be a cakewalk just because of us moving into this complex. Over the last 2 years, we have been able to build a good social network with likeminded families and have made close friends that are almost like family – kinda like the same process we went through while settling in the US. I can guarantee that if we had moved to a single family home like I had wanted to earlier, I would not have been so much at peace with the entire R2I process itself.

Going back to Vishy’s list of questions he asked me (I feel like a celebrity giving an interview now btw ;)). He asked about schooling and where our kid is studying at present. Please feel free to read through my posts on daycares/pre-schools and schools here:

Daycare Centers and Preschools in Koramangala, Bangalore

Schools in and around Koramangala, Bangalore

The 3 things I love about being in India:

  • Being closer to family (knowing that it is a matter of hours to reach them now – not days)
  • The social life for us and our little one (it is really only limited to weekends in the US)
  • The support structure that can be built here not just with hired help but with neighbors, friends, etc. (can be done in the US as well but lifestyle there is much different…things need to be planned much in advance. Last minute babysitting etc. is not easy unless you have family)

The 3 things I hate about being in India:

  • No accountability or respect for time in most people
  • People keeping their homes clean but littering their surroundings (roads…parks…everywhere!)
  • “Thoda adjust kar lo” and “Chalta hai” attitude

And once in a while, I also dislike non-stop noise (I mean I’d really like some silence once in a while)

The 3 things I miss about living in the US:

  • Food (I love international cuisines which are not easy to find here)
  • Being closer to nature (simple things like having huge clean parks near your home for taking long walks are a rarity in India)
  • Peaceful driving (rather than stressful driving here)

If you’d like to read more about why and how we made the move back to India, please feel free to visit my blog at http://indianinfant.blogspot.com/ and click on the label “R2I” on the right. You’ll see related posts such as these and a lot more:

Returned to India

R2I Plan – Crazy Busy!!!

Motherhood opens your eyes to so much more

Masti ki paathshala (for the First Grader Wannabe)

(Note: This started off as a school-centric post for both our 5.5 year old and the almost 3-year old but is now focused entirely on the former.)

We had seen Rang De Basanti earlier this year so the song Masti ki Paathshala was still fresh in my mind. Masti ki Paathshala (in Hindi) translates to School of Fun. Our goal was to find a school with the right balance between academic rigor and masti. When I made the 2-week trip to India in June, I was fortunate to meet a VC in Bangalore. This VC had moved back to India 3 years earlier and had done a thorough research of the Bangalore schools. He shared his perspective in a most useful way. He categorized the four major school boards (ICSE, CBSE, Karnataka State Board, and IGCSC) across two dimensions:

  • Emphasis on theory vs. practical education
  • Strictness of the teaching staff (e.g. “Very Strict” = rule by fear, “Mild” = American-style)

This is how he drew the table:

School Board % Theory Teaching Strictness
State Board 95% Very Strict
CBSE 70% Strict
ICSE 50% Mild-Strict
IGCSE 20% Mild

Most Indians are aware of the first three types of school boards. The last one was unfamiliar to me until we started planning our move to India in full earnest. IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), started in 1988, is a two-year programme, spread over Class 9 and 10, and leads to the final examinations offered every year in May and November. It is conducted by two UK assessment bodies: Edexcel (also known as London Examinations) and Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). IGCSE is described as a balanced curriculum and a flexible course of study with an emphasis on practical approach to teaching and learning. This Rediff article provides a good primer on IGCSE.

Both P and I had attended ICSE schools and neither of us had any complaints about the ICSE board. What I recall is that there was always a healthy debate on whether CBSE or ICSE schools were better. I vaguely recall reading that CBSE school students did better in engineering college entrance examinations. I’ll confess that the State Board schools didn’t figure high in our calculations due to the following reasons: majority of our peer group are either ICSE or CBSE school alums, mandatory local language, and a high pedagogy coefficient.

In this post, I’m not attempting a comprehensive analysis of Bangalore schools. Bangalore Schools and Chitra Aiyer’s blog post (A list of good schools in Bangalore) are noteworthy sites on this front. Our perspective was biased by a small number of recommendations from our social graph. While some parents finalize the schools first (which automatically impose a certain residential zone), we picked Koramangala for the following reasons: its community, location convenience, and comfortable commuting distance. The clincher was that our top school picks were all within fighting distance from Koramangala:

  • National Public School (Koramangala & HSR Layout Branches)
  • Greenwood High School
  • Delhi Public School (DPS)
  • Bethany High School

The odds were stacked against us since we arrived in Bangalore a few months after the school year had started. You are already aware of our initial tryst with NPS (described in The curious case of the traveling chairman). They didn’t have any open slots for midyear admission but we applied for the next academic year. At the time of writing this post, we are awaiting news from both NPS Koramangala and NPS HSR Layout on whether they’d invite S for an admission test (in Jan and March respectively). Bethany also didn’t have any open slots for midyear admission but we had heard enough good things to keep on our list for next year. DPS, by virtue of being a solid national brand, was a strong contender but we didn’t try for midyear admission since we didn’t want S to have a long commute in the first year. Which brings us to the reasons why we ended up picking Greenwood High for S:

  • Several friends (including that VC friend) recommended it as a very good ‘soft landing’ for returning-from-America kids
  • While it’s a new school, the school administrators have a shared pedigree with the venerable Bethany
  • Curriculum, teaching style and facilities suggest an International bent with an emphasis on extra-curricular activities

The main criticism we heard about Greenwood was its high teacher turnover. We figured we’d keep an eye on that trend for the first year and take our chances. Our current thinking is to continue S at Greenwood High unless he gets admission into one of the NPS branches.

The curious case of the traveling chairman

NPS Koramangala - Pic courtesy npsinr.com

It was Bangalore Day #5 and our first Friday. I had taken the day off for the express purpose of visiting the top school on our short list – National Public School. In a separate post (Masti ki paathshala), I will discuss our criteria in choosing the right school for our kids and how National Public School (“NPS” for short) captured our imagination. NPS Indiranagar (the first campus) was founded in 1982 by Dr. K. P. Gopalkrishna, and who still serves as the Chairman of the (now) four campuses. NPS Koramangala (started in 2003) and NPS HSR Layout (started in 2007) were our target locations since we were converging on Koramangala as our future neighbourhood.

Since the school year had already started 2+ months ago, a colleague advised me that our best bet was to ‘seek an audience’ with Dr. Gopalkrishna and impress upon him why NPS was our top choice. So off we headed to NPS Koramangala. We got there pretty early but were greeted by a queue of eager parents ahead of us. “Early parent catches the proverbial school seat”, I muttered to myself. I joined the queue while P kept the kids busy in the waiting area. I stated my desire to meet Chairman G and pat came the reply – “the Chairman is traveling”. Attempts to gather an eta proved futile. Dejected, I rounded up the family and we started trooping out.

As we reached the gate, a spanking green Skoda Laura passed us. Like any self-respecting nosy Indian would do, I peered inside the tinted windows. I glimpsed a suited gentleman in the back seat. My Sherlock Holmes instincts on overdrive, I asked the guard if it was Chairman G in the Skoda. He answered in the affirmative. We hurried back inside the school and I got back in line. When I announced that I wanted to meet the ‘recently returned from his travels’ Chairman, the lady (now smiling) asked me how I knew. Purely rhetorical question of course. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she asked me to write down my ‘particulars’ (Indian term for name & purpose). After an additional thirty minutes, we got the audience.

We had no real expectations from this meeting. False! The eternally unrealistic optimist (read “me”) expected the closing lines to sound something like this “Mr. and Mrs. Kuruganti, I am so impressed with your background, credentials and excellent moral standing. Even though the school year started two months ago and our classrooms are full, I’m willing to make an exception for your boys – in whose eyes I can already see their future academic brilliance.”

Ok. So the interview didn’t quite end that way but you knew that, right? We had a really interesting (and at times argumentative) discussion. I’ll save the specifics for a latter addendum. This post has gestated a full 50 days – if I postpone any longer, it won’t see the light of day.

Dec 21 2008 Update: Found this comprehensive and excellent post on Bangalore schools by blogger Chitra Iyer (this is her new blog site):

http://r2blore.blogspot.com/2007/02/list-of-good-schools-in-bangalore.html

Feb 21 2009 Update: In late January, out of the blue we got a call from NPS Koramangala that our 3 year old had been accepted into the Montessori program. Apparently the Montessori 2-year program runs parallel to the kindergarden program. We had applied to the kindergarden program yet they considered our son for the Montessori. After thinking about the admission decision for a few days (virtually unheard of based on the reaction of the admission officials), we accepted. We had to pay the entire school year’s tuition 6 months before the school year even began – nice! Then again, this appears to be the standard operating procedure in all Bangalore (perhaps all Indian?) schools.

Apr 18 2009 Update:  Shortly after S wrote the admission test for NPS Koramangala (1st Grade), we made a few trips to both the NPS branches – Koramangala and HSR Layout. Turns out my mind had played a trick and I owe someone an apology. When I wrote this post in mid-Oct 2008 and compared the NPS Koramangala receptionist to folks working in a government office, it was really the NPS HSR Layout receptionist I was thinking about. The receptionist lady at Koramangala, with whom I had several recent cordial conversations recently is a fine and decent woman and I’m sorry I mistakenly maligned her (via this blog post) from Oct ’08 to Apr ’09. I’ve edited the relevant section and moved it below..

——–start retracted portion

If you haven’t been to an Indian government office in quest of [insert_your_favorite_service_here], some background is in order. The person ‘behind the desk’ holds a position of great power. And clearly they never heard of with great power comes great responsibility. Entire tomes can be written about the government peon, the clerk, the hospital compounder (Indian title for a medical assistant) but… suffice it to say that a common operating theme is to infuriate the ‘service requester’. This is not to say that they are all cut from the same cloth. No sir! Their style can range from the bored and the lazy ignorerto the doing_you_a_big_favour to the cant_you_tell_I_am_really_important.

NPS Koramangala HSR Layout is no government office but the lady at the reception desk was an interesting blend of the aforementioned profiles. When it came to my turn, her expression bore a mixture of boredom and mild annoyance.

—- end retracted portion